There is a popular myth that suicides spike during the holidays. But the reality is that December has the fewest suicides of any month during the year (according the Centers for Disease Control).
Yet, there will be endless articles, well intentioned though they are, that will perpetuate the myth. A word of caution. If something is said enough times, especially by mass media, we will tend to believe it. Because the myth will be something of a mantra in the world of mental illness, it needs to be countered with the truth. You are not more likely to commit suicide during the holidays. It is the least risky time of the year.
However, for the person already standing at the edge of the cliff, the holiday myth can provide the final shove.
Thomas Joiner, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who has dedicated his career to researching the motivations for suicide. According to him people commit suicide because of 1) a sense of being a burden to others, 2) a profound sense of loneliness, alienation and isolation, and 3) a sense of fearlessness.
That matches my experience. On the basis of that research I’d suggest the following:
Make sure the person living with depression knows he or she is deeply loved and a blessing in your life. Cultivate an understand of their worth, the gift they are to others. Speak honestly.
Do everything you can to keep the person from isolating. Isolating is one of the first things I do when I’m deeply depressed and whenever I’ve had suicidal ideas, they’ve be nurtured by my own voice, separate from that of others. And with no counter to my hopelessness, I begin to believe the lie.
Fearlessness comes with fantasies of one’s own death. The more a person day dreams about suicide, the more a person dwells on sensational media stories about the suicide of a high profile personality, the more a person considers the particular means and location of their demise, the more they will be desensitized to act. Fear will diminish. As Joiner points out, suicide is not the act of a coward. It takes courage.
Love the person, engage the person, and counter media sensationalism with intentional discussions about life and death. Combat the suicidal ideation with conversation about the person’s value and relentlessly try to pull them out of isolation.
The holidays, like everything else, will be what we expect. If we expect depression, that’s what we’ll get. If we expect a celebration of the birth of Jesus and his saving and gracious life, then we can find a measure of peace and joy. We might live in a depressing situation, but we don’t have to live a depressed life. I’ve been there. I know.
Holiday Suicides: Fact or Myth?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 Dec. 2013. Web. 01 Nov. 2014.
- Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide | American Association of Suicidology.” Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide | American Association of Suicidology. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.
- An Interview with Thomas Joiner, Ph.D. on Why People Commit Suicide – Suicide, Depression, Anxiety Disorders.” An Interview with Thomas Joiner, Ph.D. on Why People Commit Suicide – Suicide, Depression, Anxiety Disorders. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.